Ecological restoration begins at ground level

Functional geomorphologic design is the basis for successful restoration

This post was kindly prepared by Sara Peláez Sánchez

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe question whether to continue mining for resources or not is not on the agenda today. The important questions about mining are different: How do we maximize resource efficiency in order to use fewer materials for longer?

And the question relevant to this blog is: How do we improve the quality of mine reclamation, so that society and the planet get the best ecological outcome as part of the deal?

Improvement is needed, because many ‘traditional’ approaches to mine reclamation are ineffective. For example Gradient Terraces, which aim to reduce erosion, are easily damaged by water runoff and become part of the problem. Many traditional techniques fail to secure a stabilized and self-sustainable slope as a basis for further recovery of ecological processes.

Clay mine showing severe erosion and sediments discharge

Clay mine showing severe erosion and sediments discharge

Moreover, these ‘old’ techniques aim to achieve a green appearance as soon as possible. But is this enough to guarantee the productivity and sustainability of the reclaimed lands and restore functional ecosystems? The aim should be, instead, to provide the initial ‘head start’ to the ecosystem so that the mining company can leave the site in a state of self recovery. For instance, if a mine should be restored to a Mediterranean forest area, first priority would be to ensure a stable landform (geomorphic reclamation), secondly to promote soil recovery and finally to enhance vegetation.

Speaking of geomorphic reclamation here are a few examples:

Model “Cuencas” (Minas y Ferrocarril de Utrillas S.A, Spain) is based on building a watershed with a wetland in the core to buffer inundations.

Model “Cuencas” (Minas y Ferrocarril de Utrillas S.A, Spain) is based on building a watershed with a wetland in the core to buffer inundations.

Similar to “Cuencas” but improved is the small watersheds model, based on building small catchments which allow controlling sedimentation and erosion inside the quarry.

Mine  “La Higuera” (Segovia, Spain). From top to bottom: active erosion and  degradation in October 2008. Geomorphic reclamation based on eco-hydrological principle (small watershed model) implemented in December 2008. Hydrological balance achieved and evidences of vegetation recovery in May 2010

Mine “La Higuera” (Segovia, Spain). From top to bottom: active erosion and degradation in October 2008. Geomorphic reclamation based on eco-hydrological principle (small watershed model) implemented in December 2008. Hydrological balance achieved and evidences of vegetation recovery in May 2010

A modern method receiving increasing attention is GeoFluvTM using Carlson’s Natural Regrade software to model natural landforms and watershed restoration. Thus, instead of opposing natural forces that shape the land, GeoFluvTM aims to allign the design harmoniously with them.

Reclamation of El Machorro Quarry (Guadalajara, Spain) applying GeoFluv method with final wetland, the yellow square show the area reclaimed

Reclamation of El Machorro Quarry (Guadalajara, Spain) applying GeoFluv method with final wetland, the yellow square show the area reclaimed

The rationale behind GeoFluv is twofold: on one hand the reclamed site will enjoy higher structural stability and resist erosion. On the other, the reclamation costs are significantly reduced since the new design does not require expensive initial moving of land masses and long-term maintenance. The designs can be implemented with on-site materials. They are more hospitable to wildlife and plant diversity, which finally results in restoration of the natural value of the land. These are all good reasons for such methods to be more widely embraced by the regulatory agencies and society.

The Cottonwood Reclamation Project, Farmington, New Mexico. The grey coloured material within the red is mine spoil, graded using fluvial geomorphic approach. The U.S. Department of Interior awarded San Juan Coal Company with ''National'' and ''Best of the Best'' reclamation awards for this projectin 2004

The Cottonwood Reclamation Project, Farmington, New Mexico. The grey coloured material within the red is mine spoil, graded using fluvial geomorphic approach. The U.S. Department of Interior awarded San Juan Coal Company with ”National” and ”Best of the Best” reclamation awards for this projectin 2004

The group Restauración Geomorfológica is spreading geomorphic reclamation in Spain and South and Central America. For more information, see www.restauraciongeomorfologica.es

To contact Sara, please write to: sarapelaezsanchez(at)gmail.com

If you are interested to contribute to this topic, please contact: boris.barov(at)birdlife.org

3 thoughts on “Ecological restoration begins at ground level

  1. Pingback: Quarry Rehabilitation for Cliff-nesting Birds « eco-restore.net

  2. Pingback: How quarries may help cliff-nesting birds | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: In the beginning was Soil « eco-restore.net

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s